Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany based on Mark 1:29-39
Dear hearers of preaching: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
God is not a vending machine. You don’t put in a dollar and then make your selection of what you want.
This is the way false gods are worshiped. The prophets of Baal thought that the longer they prayed, and the more intensely they prayed, the more they would be heard by Baal. When they would not receive an answer, they would cut themselves in the hopes of getting their false god to have compassion on them and answer their prayer (cf. I Ki. 18).
Offering sacrifices to idols was in order win to the favour of the idols. If food offerings didn’t result in an answer to their prayers, then they would try animal sacrifices. When animal sacrifices still did not result in the idol answering their prayer, they would even offer their children to be sacrificed, as the followers of Molech did. The thinking was that if you wanted the god to answer your prayer, you had to offer a sacrifice that was great enough. You put in your dollar and make your selection.
Atheists use a similar misunderstanding of God as an argument that there is no God. They say, “I prayed to God and He didn’t give me what I wanted, so there is no God.” I made my selection on the vending machine, but I didn’t get what I wanted, so I do not believe.
But God is not a vending machine, regardless of how people think of Him. He’s got better things prepared for us than we can even understand.
The whole city gathered at the door of the house where Jesus was. They wanted healing. They wanted sicknesses and diseases gone. Jesus did heal many. He healed many who were sick or oppressed by demons, as He had healed Simon’s mother-in-law from her fever.
However, Jesus said He came to preach. As more people came looking for Him desiring healing for themselves or their loved ones, Jesus departed to go on to the next towns in order to preach. Jesus did not heal everyone in the city, even though He could have. Instead of healing, Jesus did the more important thing – preaching. He said to His disciples, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
Preaching is better than healing. Healing leads to living longer in this sinful world, but preaching leads to eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth.
Yet, how often do we pray for preaching? “Dear God, grant me to hear more sermons.” How often do we spend time listening to sermons and reading sermons? Okay, maybe we’ll hear one on Sunday morning, but what about hearing God’s Word throughout the week? I hardly think too many of us pray for more preaching. I don’t think anyone prayed this morning, “Dear God, grant my pastor to have an extra long sermon this morning.”
Yet, we do pray for healing. We pray for healing for ourselves and our loved ones. We keep hitting the healing button on the vending machine and are disappointed if all we get is preaching. We’d rather have the healing than the preaching.
It’s not that healing is bad. Healing can mean less pain. Healing can mean more time to spend with our families before we die. Healing can mean hearing more preaching before we die.
Healing is, however, temporary. We will all still die. Healing just puts off the inevitable for a little while longer. Illnesses and sicknesses will return. Death will come. In the end, healing makes us no better off.
Preaching teaches God’s Word and tells us what God’s will is for our lives. Preaching convicts us of sin and brings us to repentance. Preaching creates and sustains trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and it thus makes us eternally better off.
Sometimes we need illness. We may need it to humble us. It is a very humbling thing to have your body or mind fail and require the help of others. It is humbling to be bedridden or confined to a wheelchair. God certainly can use illness to crush our sinful pride and give us humility.
Illness also can make us think of eternal matters. When we are healthy, we are busy with the things of this world. Illness can make us reflect on the fact that we will all die. Illness can prompt in us a greater desire to hear preaching and the Word of God. God can use illness to turn us away from the world and open our eyes to better things.
Whether God sees it fit to give healing or not, He does not give it because of anything we have done. God does not answer our prayers because our prayers are long or well-worded or intense. He doesn’t answer our prayers because we have sacrificed greatly or given Him offerings.
Everything God gives to us, He gives only out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. Even the illnesses that He gives to us, He gives to us out of love, desiring what is for our eternal good.
Unlike a vending machine, what God gives to us is not His response to what we have given to Him. It’s the other way around. God gives to us first. He gives blessings to us, so that we have something to give to Him as an offering. He gives us the greatest good – the forgiveness of sin – so that our hearts would be freed to give offerings to Him willingly and joyfully, not under compulsion. He gives us eternal life, so that we will not cling to the things of this earth like they are going to last, but that we would release our hold of what God has entrusted to us and use it for the eternal good of others, by supporting preaching here and around the world.
Preaching is better than healing, because it brings not just temporary healing, but eternal healing. If you do pray for healing from illness, just know that God may say no to healing in this life, and instead bring you into His eternal joys where you will have eternal healing.
Pray for preaching. Pray that God will graciously grant you to hear the preaching of His Word for all the days of your life. Pray that God would grant your children and grandchildren preachers who preach His Word. Pray that God would give you a desire to hear His Word, and that He would give you wisdom and understanding when you hear it preached.
There is nothing better than hearing the Gospel preached to you. Jesus died for you, so your sins are forgiven. Your sins which plague you cannot keep you from heaven because your sins have been removed from you. You have the promise of eternal life. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You have the promise of being healed eternally from all illnesses and sicknesses, where you will see God face to face, and He will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Eternal healing is God’s promise to you, and that promise gives you trust in God through all the illnesses of this life. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.